When Crawley ruled the music world!

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SAY what you will about the 1980s, the music was brilliant – and Crawley boasted a swarm of talented singers and songwriters with dreams of making it big.

Music lover Jeff Pitcher has organised a celebration of “the creative explosion that emerged from 1980s Crawley New Town”.

The Babyboomers-Newtown-popscenePunks party will be held at the Grasshopper, Tilgate, on Saturday (May 26) to raise money for St Catherine’s Hospice.

Spitfire, Friendly Fires, All The Daughters, The Milk Sisters, Bobby Scarlet and Orange will all be making an appearance and there will be an alternative 80s Jiveball disco.

The event will run from 8pm to 2am and tickets cost £3 via www.wegottickets.com

Jeff wrote the following about the Crawley music scene of the 1980s.

Crawley has had its fair share of Rock ‘n’ Roll history. Jimi Hendrix, The Small Faces, The Yardbirds, James Brown, Rod Stewart, Ottis Redding, Lulu, Pink Floyd and The Who all played our own Starlight Ballroom - between ’64 and ‘68, The Who played Crawley four times!

Throughout the 70s and very early 80s, many important or iconic bands of the time such as The Clash, The Jam, Motorhead, Mott the Hoople, The Stranglers, Haircut 100, Sham 69, Black Sabbath, Dr Feelgood, Chuck Berry, Squeeze and Madness all played Crawley College or the leisure centre.

We really were quite spoilt.

Our story is about the alternative, home-grown scene during the 1980s, which emerged almost simultaneously as the above venues all went into decline.

The news that ex-St Wilfrid’s pupil Robert Smith and The Cure will be performing at the Reading Festival for the first time in 33 years - they performed there in 1979 to support their debut album Three Imaginary Boys - takes us neatly into our 80s revisited story.

Robert Smith had a very positive influence on the youth of Crawley in the early 80s, not only as local boy ‘made good,’ but also as a helpful, creative presence, judging early battle of the bands competitions and helping to fund and produce two independent singles on his own label.

Firstly, a neat little 7-inch record by Hazelwick teens Rob ‘Robin Banks’ Goodey and Paul ‘Nick Loot’ Wilson then known as The Obtainers.

Rob Goodey said: “We met Robert Smith via The Cure’s, Porl Thompson. We gave him a tape and he decided to record us. We went to the studio in July ‘79.

“One hundred copies were released in May 1980, and the rest is history. We both went to Three Bridges Middle School, but were in Hazelwick when it was recorded.

“We later formed Henry’s Head, who reformed a few years ago and are still playing. In fact we still play the single ‘Yeh Yeh Yeh!’”

Pressings on Smith’s ‘Dance Fools Dance’ label are so rare that they can now fetch up to £500 each.

Robert Smith also played a big part in the career of, then 16 year old, Leon Muraglia and his band, Animation.

Leon said: “I played a bit with The Obtainers at school, I knew Robert Smith through The Cure’s Porl Thompson, who worked at L+H Cloake in town (the record shop).

“He lived round the corner from me, so I’d often pop round on a Sunday and sit and talk - sounds a bit weird, I know! And sometimes he’d invite me in and give me a guitar to play.

“He ended up producing and putting out the Frame One 7-inch on his label, Dance Fools Dance in 1982.

“We pressed 500 singles, which Smith left in the back of his car (a white Vauxhall VX1800 estate), for a few sunny days when he went on a drinking binge with Steve Severin of Siouxsie + The Banshees so half of them were badly warped.

“They now sell for huge sums of cash. I have a few copies somewhere.”

A local scene was beginning to emerge. Comprehensive kids, encouraged by the new liberal, creative curriculum, began to write their own songs and organise their own gigs in community centres, pubs, the town centre bandstand and anywhere that would have them.

Crawley musician Jeff Stonehouse said: “It was an amazing time for live music in Crawley. There were so many excellent local bands of all genres writing and playing original and exciting new material.

“Gigs seemed to be constant; it felt like there were one or two every week. I spent many a happy Sunday night at the Apple Tree watching bands like Henry’s Head, The Bad Tune Men, Bobby Scarlet, Charles Cold, Ever, the Milk Sisters, and Friendly Fires.

“Then there were the generally more raucous gigs in various community centres where the likes of Exis, Intensive Care, the brilliant Baby Jesus and Fallopian Opera played.

“Being in a band myself at the time was a great experience. It seemed that people were generally more open to listening to music from outside their comfort zone.”

Whilst Crawley had a brilliant diverse punk hardcore/goth scene, around 1983/84/85 a new breed of local bands were emerging -

bands with a more ‘pop’ punk attitude, influenced by John Peel and the New Wave/Independent explosion.

Ever, led by ex-Thomas Bennett kids David Hope, Peter Whittick and Colin Ray, were for a while THE band to make it, closely followed by The Milk Sisters, Charles Cold, All The Daughters and Swing the Heartache.

These bands had the looks, hooks, attitude and songs - a potential crossover appeal to sell huge amounts of records.

With the help of manager and fanzine editor Johnny Dee (who now writes for the Guardian) and Glyn Edbrooke from BBC Radio Sussex, it really looked as though things were finally going to happen.

Where previously these bands only played local gigs at venues such as the Boys Club or Bar Amelia wine bar (next to the old Sarah Robinson School in Robinson Road, now Asda) gigs in London and Brighton were becoming increasingly common.

A&R (Artists and repertoire) men became a regular feature, record companies were courted, reviews in the NME/Melody Maker written.

Even a then unknown Hull band, The Housemartins, travelled down to play with our happening Crawley bands at the Apple Tree.

Johnny Dee said: “I thought nothing of phoning up every major record label and making appointments to see their head of A&R and try to get them to sign Ever.

“That process was ultimately very dispiriting. To my ears Ever had a sound and style that was their own and fantastic songs that would sit in the top 10 alongside The Psychedelic Furs and Echo & The Bunnymen - I was a fan basically - but sadly the A&R men weren’t really interested in those things.

“What they wanted were sure bets and a sure bet in those days was basically a band who had already proved themselves in the indie charts, already had a large following or sounded exactly like a hot band their rival record company had just signed.

“I managed to get some of these characters - who back then were very clichéd, tour bomber jacket-wearing kind of blokes - to come to a few Ever shows.

“In hindsight, what I really should have done, is ignored the major labels completely and gone for smaller labels like Rough Trade and Beggar’s Banquet, but I always thought that Ever were a major label band.

“I thought they’d be as big as U2 and I must have been quite convincing ‘cos I remember a few pub conversations were dominated by the party we were going to have when they got signed.

“I feel really bad now that I never got them a deal - but I was only 18.”

All but Charles Cold imploded before committing to record - a great shame when listening back to the fantastic demos tapes now.

The world just wasn’t ready.

In 1986, Charles Cold changed their name to The Friendly Fires and released their first three-track 7-inch single, Arkansas, on singer Brian Hope’s Deadbug label.

This was soon followed by another Deadbug double-A side 7-inch release, Mosquito/Peach, by new to the scene, ‘60’s influenced five-piece Bobby Scarlet in early ‘87.

Subsequently, both bands released a 12-inch single - The Friendly Fires’ I Said To Him and Bobby Scarlet’s White Pearl.

Friendly Fires and Bobby Scarlet found themselves supporting many established independent bands of the day at venues around the south east, but, unfortunately by 1988 both groups had spilt.

The Eighties story ends with garage rockers Spitfire, formed from the ashes of Bobby Scarlet in late 1989.

Spitfire, all ex-Thomas Bennett pupils, soon found themselves signed to a London-based independent record company.

Within six months they had acquired an NME single of the week.

A national tour with a fresh from Top of the Pops Blur and John Peel sessions followed.

1992 saw a Reading Festival appearance and a number one independent single with the EP Wild Sunshine, Spitfire can also count Pulp and The Verve amongst an illustrious line-up of bands that supported them.

Spitfire called it a day in early 1994 after releasing two albums and seven Eps.

During the late 80s/early 90s, it became increasingly difficult for original new bands to find local venues.

Bar Amelia and the Apple Tree had by now changed hands and cover bands became the order of the day.

The council had set new restrictions on the hiring of community centres, also fly posting on the town’s empty shops had became a crime rather than a nuisance.

A lot of the gig organisers and band members found living in a much more tolerant Brighton (or London) an easier option and stronger scenes were created there.